Disney fires director of TV content Peter Rice as board backs CEO Bob Chuckle

Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO, Fox Networks Group Inc. , speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, May 3, 2017.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Disney has abruptly fired Peter Rice, its top television content executive, multiple sources told CNBC Thursday, while the company’s board of directors expressed support for CEO Bob Chapek.

Rice, who came to Disney in 2019, after the company finalized a deal to buy 21st Century Fox, didn’t know a shooting was about to happen, according to a person familiar with the matter. Dana Walden, Rice’s first lieutenant, will replace him immediately.

Chabek told Rice he wasn’t culturally fit at Disney in a brief meeting on Wednesday, one person said. Based on feedback from other Disney employees, the CEO made a determination that Rice did not work collaboratively with others and was more interested in controlling his fiefdom, the person said. The person said Tangling also felt that Walden excels at working with others.

“Dana is a dynamic, collaborative leader and cultural force who, in just three years, has transformed our television business into a content force that consistently delivers the entertainment audiences crave.”

Although Rice is generally well-liked personally, she has annoyed some Disney co-workers for monopolizing information rather than sharing it with co-workers — an approach that may have worked at Fox but was not appropriate at Disney, according to a person familiar with the material. He has clashed with former Disney broadcast chief Kevin Mayer over who should have the green light powers over content selection for Disney+.

However, Rice endorsed Chuckle’s organizational changes, which brought him back the ability to have direct conversations with the Hollywood talent about whether Disney would choose their work, another person said. Rice’s contract was renewed in August 2021 and is set to run until 2024. A person familiar with the matter said that Rice received undisclosed compensation.

tangled future

Rice was seen as a potential candidate to succeed Tangle as Disney’s CEO, although that wasn’t the reason for his dismissal, two people said. Rice is loved and respected in Hollywood, and his firing was “unheard of” and “big,” in the person’s words. A Disney spokesperson declined to comment. Rice could not immediately be reached for comment.

“The strength of The Walt Disney Company’s business emerging from the pandemic is a testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the company’s future,” Disney CEO Susan Arnold said in a statement. “At this important time for business growth and transformation, we are committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob and his leadership team have the support and confidence of the Board of Directors.”

Arnold’s statement is the first public comment the Disney board has made about Chapek since it dealt with several controversies this year, including a row with former CEO Bob Iger and his handling of communications over Florida’s “Don’t Say Jay” legislation. Chapek’s contract expired in February.

Rice’s dismissal comes as Disney is aggressively working to expand its streaming audience, a key priority for Chapek. Rice has overseen 20th Television, ABC Entertainment, ABC News, and FX, among other brands.

CNBC’s Julia Borstein contributed to this report.

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